Why one vaccination campaign is targeting older New Yorkers with animation

The push uses a cartoonized version of COVID-19 called Rampage to reach people over age 65 who have not been vaccinated.

New York City's Department for the Aging is trying to get through to unvaccinated people over age 65 with Rampage.
New York City's Department for the Aging is trying to get through to unvaccinated people over age 65 with Rampage.

Richard Eber, creative director at agency o2kl, has heard people question why he would use animation for a public service announcement aimed at older adults. 

But Eber is confident in the agency’s decision to use Rampage, a cartoon coronavirus, to reach the 20% of New Yorkers over age 65 who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, and scare them enough to get the shots. (The campaign is focused on people over age 60, but the city segments its data at age 65.)

“I think a lot of these people grew up on ‘Looney Tunes’ and Warner Brothers cartoons, so it’s not like it’s so out of their lifespan; they are used to it,” said Eber, whose agency is based in New York. 

The campaign, which launched this month, was sponsored by the New York City Department for the Aging. 3VLTS, a Minneapolis-based company, produced the ad. 

“To finally put an end to the pandemic, it is important to reach all New Yorkers who may be hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccines, especially older adults who remain the population most vulnerable to the virus,” Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, commissioner for the Department for the Aging, said in a statement. “For many New Yorkers, a vaccine was an impulsive decision. They just wanted it. But for the 60-plus group, they’ve had almost a year to decide against it or comply.”

To try to produce an effective campaign, o2kl staffers conducted 20 interviews with people who had not been vaccinated about their hesitancy. Eber said he listened to all the interviews.

“I found them to be actually interesting and quite articulate. They knew their information. There just always seemed to be some fact that was missing to get them to go over the edge to get the vaccine,” said Eber. “One of the big discoveries we found was that they resented the advertising directed towards them.”

They described irritating advertising as “people in white lab coats, representing the government, telling you to get a vaccine,” Eber recalled. “Some of them even felt like they were being bullied.”

During a meeting about the campaign, someone on the o2kl team said, “I don’t even understand this virus. I don’t know what it looks like. I don’t know what it does to my body.”

Based on that sentiment, the agency tried to “personify the virus. Let’s let people understand how terrible it is, what it does to the body, how it enters the body, what it does to the lungs,” Eber said. 

After getting the greenlight from the Department of the Aging, the creatives produced the ad in less than three weeks, Eber said. 

The agency worked to give Rampage “a lot of personality,” said Eber. “We likened him to a lot of serial killers in New York and across the country…meaning he is so confident in his ability to kill people, he is willing to give out clues.”

In the ad, caper music plays in the background while Rampage, walking across the New York skyline, says, “By the time you meet me, it’s too late.”

“I’m Rampage. I’m a coronavirus, and your healthy cells are my guilty pleasure. I’ll enter your body and head for your lungs,” the character says in a gravelly voice. 

The video shows an illustration of lungs as Rampage tells viewers that he “will smother you with my Rampage love.”

“Why am I talking to older New Yorkers? You’re vulnerable and easy to get,” he says. “I will tell you something else: doctors are my enemy. They know my weakness, like I know yours, so talk to a doctor, but don’t wait too long. I’m just around the corner.”

Rampage never uses the word “vaccine,” but the video ends with a graphic urging viewers to, “Give the vaccine another thought. Talk to a doctor.”

The Stop Rampage PSA campaign will also be translated into Spanish and Yiddish to reach the unvaccinated in the Hispanic and Orthodox Jewish communities, respectively. 

In addition to television, print versions of the PSA will run in neighborhoods with low vaccination rates. That includes settings such as bus shelters, local newspapers, out-of-home media placement venues and digital platforms like Google and Facebook. 

The agency is also working on Rampage PSAs aimed at pregnant women and children and at dispelling the notion that the vaccines were produced too quickly.

“Our goal is just to get everyone vaccinated,” said Tracey Owens, president of o2kl. “Especially this aging population that is the most vulnerable. We are dedicated to helping those people live as healthy and as productive lives as possible.”

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